Tuesday, 23 October 2018

A trip to Whipsnade Zoo

I’ve been digging around in my photo archives again this week and came across another set of photos that I thought would make a nice post on my blog. Sorry for the fact I’ve done two archive posts in a row now – I’m still trying to get myself into a routine of uploading on here and on my YouTube and my health isn’t really playing ball! But I thought you might enjoy hearing about our trip to Whipsnade Zoo, which we went on around this time last year. 

Whipsnade Zoo has always held quite a special place in my heart. From as far back as I can remember, my parents would often take us to this zoo for a day out and I hold very fond memories of slightly windy days romping around the countryside in my wellington boots. With my Dad being a member of ZSL (who run Whipsnade and London Zoos), it was an easy day out for the family, and although it’s not particularly close to home, it has always been well worth the journey. Sitting in the Bedfordshire countryside, there is plenty of space for the animals to roam. It’s one of the things I particularly like about this zoo, and because of the amount of space, they are able to house animals, such as elephants (one of my personal favourites!), that can’t be kept at smaller zoos. 

We drove over to Dunstable on a slightly chilly autumn morning. I’ve been so used to going to the zoo during school holidays and weekends, so was pleasantly surprised to find we could get our tickets and go in without any queuing! With the zoo being set over such a vast area, it’s not like, say, London Zoo, where you would park your car (or arrive by train) and then just wander around. Whipsnade is more of a safari zoo – you can drive your car around between the different animal enclosures and then park up at various car parks, get out and explore those exhibits close by. Don’t get me wrong, if you wanted to leave your car in the main car park and walk around the whole thing I’m sure you could, but we found it easier to drive round to the different areas, get my wheelchair out each time and then spend time looking round before heading back to the car.


Our first stop, after buying our entry tickets and being given maps of the zoo, was to head round to the Lookout Café (which has now been renamed River Cottage Kitchen and Deli) for a warm drink. The views from this café are incredible and on a good day you can see for miles across the English countryside. From the photos on the website, the newly refurbished café looks cosy and inviting, and having partnered with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, I’m sure the food will be delicious. Still, at the time, a hot drink to warm us up was all we needed while we took in the views.







Once we’d finished our drinks, we made our way outside to see which animals we could see close by. Right next to the café was the reindeer enclosure, where they were busy tucking into their lunch. I think they’re beautiful animals with their amazing antlers, but I particularly like their little white fluffy tails! We stayed watching them for quite a while, as it was really interesting to see them munching away at the leaves and interacting with each other.


Across the road from the café was a herd of white rhinos that were either fast asleep or eating (animals after my own heart!) Their space is pretty massive, so it was a bit difficult to see them close up, but to be honest I’d prefer it that way than for them to be cooped up in a tiny enclosure. 






We continued round through the African section of the zoo and came across the Hippo House. I know people have very mixed opinions on whether we should have zoos, but seeing all the amazing work that ZSL do to stop endangered species becoming extinct was pretty humbling. I do often wonder how many of these beautiful animals wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the work that zoos do for them. Some of the hippos were swimming about in the outside area, but we made our way inside after seeing a sign saying there was a new baby with his mother in there. I think we must have stayed in the hippo house for almost an hour, waiting for a glimpse of the baby hippo. Mum was easy to spot – basking on the surface of the water – but for a long time, baby was no-where to be seen. Then, all of a sudden, this little nose poked out of the water just behind the Mum and stayed there for a couple of minutes, taking in the new faces that had come to see him. I managed to get a couple of photos, although it was quite dark in there so they’re not the best unfortunately. And as quickly as he’d appeared, he was gone again, back under the water to the safety of Mum.











Next on our journey, as we headed towards Base Camp, was Flamingo Lake. Flamingos seem to come in so many different shades of pink, so I loved seeing all the different colours and the way they stand on one leg. I was also sporting my flamingo jumper, so, of course, had to ask my Dad to take a photo of me with the flamingos in the background!







We then doubled back on ourselves, and went back into ‘Africa’ to the giraffe enclosure. I always find it difficult when someone asks me what my favourite animal is because I like so many different ones, but I think giraffes are pretty high up my list. You can see the giraffes at Whipsnade from a few different places – we started inside their house, where a couple were tucking into some leaves and hay. You are also able to go up a large wooden slope to a tree house, which overlooks the whole giraffe enclosure. Thankfully this was wheelchair accessible, so my Mum and I made our way up there to get a brilliant view over the top of the giraffes as they ate and played outside. After a while, a couple of giraffes decided to come over to the tree house where we were standing, which was just amazing being so close to them. But if that wasn’t enough, one then seemed to take a liking to me and began licking me with his long black tongue! Although I was a little bit nervous to start with, I quickly began to laugh (along with the other people who were also up in the tree house!) and appreciate being able to get so close to such a beautiful creature. Definitely one of the highlights of my trip!



On our way back to collect the car, we stumbled across the meerkat house, which I was very excited about! Unfortunately most of the meerkat must have been hiding (perhaps it was a bit cold for them?) but we managed to spot two cuddled up together on top of one of the inside rocks. They looked so ridiculously cute – I just wanted to give them a cuddle (although I’m guessing I may have ended up being bitten, as although they look cute and cuddly, I think they can be pretty aggressive!) 





One animal I had really wanted to get a glimpse of was the lions, but I knew from experience that they weren’t always the easiest to spot, especially if they found a nice warm place to fall asleep. But we went to the African Lion section just in case we could see any, and as luck would have it, they were just being fed! I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so close to a group of lions in my life and it was difficult not to feel a bit nervous when they stared at us through the glass. Watching them eating, playing and then falling asleep just reminded me of our cats at home (albeit on a much larger, and scarier, scale!) and I was just in awe of being able to get so close to such magnificent creatures. As they lay down I caught a glimpse of the little ‘beans’ on the underside of one of their paws, and couldn’t help but take a photo – they’re just like Jaffa’s only bigger!



As well as the animal enclosures, there are also quite a few animals that can roam around freely in the park. I’m not even going to begin to guess what these are, but they look a bit like miniature kangaroos! Still, they must feel comfortable with the visitors to the zoo, as they were more than happy for us to walk right past them without even flinching. 


Unfortunately, we ran out of time to see everything we wanted to see – there’s just so much to see and do that I can’t imagine you could possibly run out of things to do on a day trip there! I think my Dad would have quite liked to ride on the train, which takes you round the outskirts of ‘Asia’ to see animals like Sloth Bears, Camels, Asian Rhinos and Amur Tigers. And I would have loved to have had time to see the penguins, European Brown Bears, Red Pandas, Squirrel Monkeys, Sea Lions and the Lemurs. But I guess it’s just an excuse to go back another day!





One last thing we did manage to do before we had to leave was to see the Asian Elephants. Their enclosure is absolutely huge and apparently, before we arrived, the baby elephants had been playing in the water fountains, which I’m gutted I missed. But I was still happy that we managed to see the herd nonetheless. There were a mixture of male, female and baby elephants living across two paddocks and it just made me realise how much I would love to see these animals in the wild one day. I can only imagine how amazing it is to go on safari and see them in their natural habitat. 


The final thing we did before we left to come home was to have a quick mooch around the gift shop (well, my Mum and I did, my Dad went and brought the car round to the exit!) They have so many lovely products on offer – whether it’s a cuddly tiger or a beautifully printed silk scarf - there were so many things I wanted to take home with me, but I managed to be restrained! Overall, we had a lovely trip down to Whipsnade Zoo and it brought back a lot of happy childhood memories. I can’t wait until we can take my nephew there for the first time and hopefully start his love for the zoo as well. And, of course, I’m looking forward to going back again too to see all the animals I didn’t get to see this time round.

Have you been to Whipsnade Zoo before? Or do you have another favourite zoo that you would recommend? 


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